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31 March 2006

Silicon Glen company Bloxx wins champions of business excellence award

Glad to see local company Bloxx picking up an award recently. They develop highly sophisticated web filtering software and have already built up an impressive client base. Check the Bloxx website for more information. They are also a finalist in the Secure Computing Europe awards, definitely a company to watch.

Why ID Cards are pointless

How are we to establish our true identities in order to get an ID card? So if we need to prove who we are to get a card why do we need the card?

So the point of the ID card isn't identity as this can be done via other means, including driving licence or passport. It seems the point of the ID card is to facilitate data sharing between government departments. But many government departments already do this. We also have a central national ID number - the national insurance number. Why can't they share data already. Is it incompetence?

It seems about the only people who can't are the police who 10+ years after Dunblane are still struggling to set up a central firearms register where they can all share information.

"Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards as the Tory Right demand, let that money provide thousands more police officers on the beat in our local communities"

These are the words of Tony Blair, in a passionate speech against Identity Cards to the 1995 Labour party conference in Brighton. Ten years later and he not only wants an ID card himself, but wants us all scanned, fingerprinted and registered on the largest biometric database in the world.

The Identity Card Bill allows for the introduction of compulsory Identity Cards for all. Though it will be compulsory, we will have to pay for the card, and pay every time our details change, such as a change in address. If we dont keep the authorities informed of such changes, we will be fined.

ID Cards wont tackle identity fraud, crime or any of the high-profile problems the Government has claimed they will address. Charles Clarke has said that he doubted that ID cards would have protected London from the terrorist attack of July 7th.

They will be a huge waste of money (both in terms of public tax and straight from our pockets). They will change our society and the way we live, forever.

30 March 2006

Car charging

In the recent budget the chancellor placed much more emphasis on the rates of car tax based on the pollution caused by the car. Since the resultant car tax disc is machine readable via a bar code, this introduces all sorts of novel applications, including:

1. Car lanes for the exclusive use of cars that don't guzzle gas (e.g. £100 car tax a year or less)

2. Preference car parking spaces in town centres for more environmentally friendly cars, you get into the preference section via a camera scanning your tax disc to raise a barrier.

3. Different toll rates on bridges. After all the damage to the bridge varies with the weight of the car, so smaller cars with lower tax values should pay a lower rate to use the bridge.

4. Cheaper meter rates for parking in towns for smaller cars to cut down on rush hour pollution. You register your number plate via a mobile, the computer looks up your tax code and the meter prints the ticket accordingly and includes your number plate on the parking ticket.

Any other potential uses?

Web 2.0 CV and Skills Tracker

Web 2.0 Style CV and Skills Tracker. Potentially interesting, however the unfortunate name and variants such as Go Jobby might end up being the most memorable thing here. Scottish definition.

The Great Mystery of Online Ticket Purchase

How would you like it if you went into your favourite supermarket and then were charged 10% admin fee on top of the shelf price to take your goods home? OK, silly question really. Even if the shelf price said there was a 10% fee. Still just as silly.

So why does noone complain about the same silly practice when you buy tickets online? You go to the SECC site, you see the ticket prices and then when you go to buy them there's a 10% mandatory admin fee. What value is this to the consumer? If the admin fee is mandatory would it not be a lot simpler all round if it was just incorporated into the ticket price to start with? Noone is denying the venue a fair living, but why make it complicated for the consumer?

I found another site (not the SECC) which indulged in this practice of last minute mandatory surcharges on tickets and informed trading standards about it. The response was

I am the officer assigned to investigate your complaint. I have viewed the site and as a result have concerns about the pricing methods used on the site.

The Consumer Protection Act 1987 is quite specific concerning additional charges made once a price has been displayed. Consumers should not be given price indications, which subsequently increase when they try to pay for the goods or services. It is my intention to pass details of this issue to the Trading Standards office based near xxxx's head office. That office should then be able to raise this matter with xxxx on my behalf.

Good. Maybe a few other sites could pay attention? Simple pricing works best.

29 March 2006

Car parking spaces

Would whoever the person is who designed the Standard Supermarket Car Parking Space please note. They are not big enough. If you go shopping in America, it is in fact possible for a driver and a passenger to be able to both get out of a car without doing contortions, without bumping the adjacent cars and without doing car park gymnastics to get in and out of your car if you get back from your shopping to find someone has parked badly in the space next to you. If America can do it, we should be able to do it with our smaller cars.

Is there a European Standard for this?

While I'm at it, why are so many business parks built with such woeful public transport and inadequate parking? Maybe someone could do something imaginative like have half the car park allocated for cars with tax discs of £100 or less. That way the gas gusslers can fight it out for the few remaining spaces whilst the greener cars can enjoy being able to park near to where the driver needs to be.

Fake money alert, please take notice

It has come to my attention that there is fake currency in circulation, please see the following story so that you are fully up to date and know how to spot a fake Euro. Ananova - Fake euros being passed off as real.

ID Card sellout

BBC NEWS | Politics | ID card deadlock comes to an end. Well what a load of rubbish that is. You apply for a passport, you have your details entered on the national ID register, but you don't get to enjoy the benefits of having an ID card. All of the disadvantages and none of the advantages. This is progress?

Beyond the spam filter

It seems like the penny has dropped. anti-spam vendors are looking beyond filters and using economics to fight spam. After all there is a lot less motivation to send spam when there is an economic penalty for doing so. Read the article for more info.

Equal rights for male health

BBC NEWS | Scotland | More action needed on male health. Seems perfectly sensible to me if we all want to live in an equal society.

28 March 2006


JotForm looks like an interesting application, maybe I'll use it on my website.

27 March 2006

Anti spam software

I develop anti-spam software in my spare time. Now at 34,000 downloads.

Scottish National Anthem

Scotland The Brave has been played at the recent Commonwealth Games when members of the Scottish team win a medal. Flower of Scotland is played at Football and Rugby matches. The First Minister has suggested that we adopt a single national anthem. We've had this debate before though, various newspapers have proposed it particularly when the Scottish parliament was being established in 1999. For some suggestions, see the Scottish FAQ - anthems page. Might be good to get one anthem if the Commonwealth Games come to Glasgow. Anyone for No Gods and Precious few heroes?

What Tim Berners-Lee would do differently

I am in the British Computer Society and this interview with inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee was published by the BCS recently. A good read on what he would do if he had the chance to reinvent the web. Also some interesting insights into where things are going with the Semantic Web.

Want to catch the next wave on the Internet?

From a posting on the Now-Forum ...

I was wondering if there was anyone reading this who is either:

  1. Prepared to invest in building a prototype of a novel application/web site or
  2. Prepared to work for equity in building the same

This is a technology that a large search engine might find useful to greatly improve the quality of their searches in certain areas. It also empowers content publishers to achieve more with less time and significantly less expense. If successful, it will greatly improve the usability of many websites.

Particular technologies of interest are:

Design and build of a user friendly community based with site with log in features, up to date knowledge of web application development including Web 2.0/AJAX, Greasemonkey, JavaScript, API design. XML, XSLT, Scalable database design, semantic networks, search engine back end algorithms.

Some experience of building user friendly client side applications, especially C++ is also likely to be of use.

Brownie points for those of you who have submitted a digg frontpage story or know what microformats are or have had code published on

E-mail me if you are interested.

26 March 2006

Scotland is now smoke free by law

Scotland has become the first part of the UK to be smoke free by law. The law bans smoking in all indoor public places and workplaces, including all bars and restaurants.

Read my submission to parliament on this.

read more | digg story.

24 March 2006

A small victory for privacy

I have argued for a while that we obsess about age. Especially when I speak to reporters, they inevitably want to open a press release with "... Craig Cockburn, xx, ..." where xx is the number of birthdays that I have had. However, the number of times this is in fact actually relevant to the story is pretty much nil. It's no more relevant than my religion or ethnic background, yet somehow they feel this is mandatory information which must be included in the story.

So I became a bit disturbed by the increasing number of websites which were making this information mandatory. The Third Principle of the Data Protection Act concerning excess data for the purpose seems to have passed by such sites. Forthcoming legislation to outlaw age discrimination seems to be the cause. Rather than recognising that age is irrelevant and not asking it, agencies seem to be going into reverse and making it mandatory to ensure that they aren't discriminating based on age. The contradiction is that if they aren't supposed to be discriminating based on ethnic origins, race or religion why is this information still optional? Clearly any such statistical gathering, to be in line with the 3rd principle of the data protection act, must be relevant and not excessive for the purpose. If it is really necessary to gather info on age, then this must be volunteered and also an approximate age range is sufficient. The main problem with submitting age, name, address and so on via a form is the great majority of sites do not use a secure page to do so. If you wouldn't submit your credit card details on an insecure page, why would you want to do so with the exact info that someone comittting identity theft would love to get their hands on?

I am pleased to say that my lobbying on this matter has caused the Department of Work and Pensions to review their guidance in this area. Whilst not perfect, you can now read the amended guidelines on their website here.

22 March 2006

The Budget

So Gordon Brown announced in today's budget that certain cars will no longer have to pay the beaurocratic nightmare that is car tax. I'm still looking forward to the day that my points in July 1998 regarding car tax get taken on board by the government. Car Tax is a nightmare, particularly so when last year I bought a car that had previously been owned by a disabled person. Due to the nightmare of car tax, I couldn't buy the car until someone made a special trip to Glasgow to change the tax rate on the car. How much beaurocracy do you need to just pay the full rate applicable for an able bodied driver?
For goodness sake just get rid of this nonsense and all those irritating TV adverts at the same time. Collect the tax through petrol taxation and have an MOT/insurance disc instead (like Ireland). It's far more effective and safer proving that your car is MOTsd and insured every time your take it on the road than only having to prove it once to go through the car tax beaurocracy.

A new search for Scottish Accommodation

A new search facility for Scottish Accommodation has now gone live here

The most comprehensive Scottish accommodation search on the Internet.

21 March 2006

Freedom of speech contradiction

Historian who denies holocaust goes to jail


Press digs in over freedom of speech re Islamic cartoons

Am I the only one who notices the apparant contradiction here or does freedom of speech only apply with regard to some faiths and not others?

A morning teaching Gaelic

Following on from the "Gaelic in English schools" campaign in the West Highland Free Press last year, I contacted one of the primary schools in West Lothian suggesting they include some Gaelic to the children. They felt it would be useful to do this as part of Scots week. So I took a morning out from my day job today and spent it giving a few hundred children an introduction to the languages, some phrases, songs, history and customs etc. The day went very well and one approach I took was to first off highlight Gaelic words they were using every day (placenames, personal names) and didn't realise it and also various words in English of Gaelic origin (e.g. Pet, Trousers), as well as the more usual Ceilidh, Glen etc and what they originally meant. The day went very well with some children coming up to me after school and saying "ciamar a tha thu". Another child said that they had wanted me to stay for longer.

One unexpected mnemonic was "Martian lad" for "mar sin leat". In any case I have put the material online here incase anyone else might find it useful:

It's more aimed at the upper ages of primary school but the songs went down well with the younger ones, especially the puirt a beul.

Something like this could form a useful model for rolling out across more English medium in schools in Scotland, to counter the widespread ignorance of the language.



Started a three week Prince2 course today. Being a bit busy at the moment what with that one and also a 7 weeks course in being a better manager at Napier University Business School. Both courses kindly funded indirectly by those nice folks at Google.

20 March 2006

Courtesy title madness

I wrote to National Savings and Investments, querying why the courtesy title field on their website was mandatory when a large number of people elect not to use one. I know this by designing websites and looking at actual data submitted by visitors through webforms. I said to them that I would prefer not to use one.

Their reply back opened with "Dear Mr Cockburn..."

I guess they missed the point. :-)

For a more detailed argument read Courtesy Titles.

15 years - Scottish events in London

The Guide to Scottish Events in London celebrates its 15th anniversary today. Latest copy available here

16 March 2006

Managment institute

I became a member of the chartered management institute today. This entitles me to put ACMI after my name. I'm looking to do a management diploma later in the year and this will entitle me to become a full member, and have an MBA after 2 years part time study.

14 March 2006

The Last Guide to Smoke Free Scotland

The last guide to Scottish pubs for non smokers was published today. This marks the historic vote in the house of commons today when England votes to go smoke free. The Scottish Parliament has already passed legislation and from 26th March, Scotland will be smoke free, thus making my guide to Scottish pubs for non smokers redundant.

13 March 2006

Dunblane, 10 years, ID cards.

It's been 10 years since I wrote about the Dunblane Primary shootings

10 years on, two things strike me. One is that after my father died 2 years ago and who I wrote about above, he is now buried near the garden of remembrance. The tragedy of 10 years ago is a regular reminder to us when we visit his grave. In the 10 years that have passed we have got
married and had a family. Our children, now about the age that the children were that day enjoy playing in the fountain set up in the garden of remembrance. We were told that this was no Diana memorial, it was supposed to be a place where children could play. How could I have
imagined that 10 years on my own family would become connected to this tragedy in such a way.

The other is the ongoing lack of a national gun register.,,2090-2070882,00.html. One of the earliest promises by Tony Blair in 1997 after being elected, the Scottish forces set up a central database in 1998, two years after the shootings. 2006 and 10 years on from the tragedy "IT difficulties" in England and Wales have prevented it from being implemented and were as still only talking about having pilots. I can't understand why the Scottish forces can get their act together so quickly, yet despite personal support from the Prime Minister we are still waiting for a UK
wide solution nearly 10 years later. As someone who works as an IT consultant, I know it shouldn't take this long. The UK government is famous for its IT failures and this is just another in a long line (and we still have ID cards to look forward to)

Whilst Tony Blair did good to introduce the legislation banning guns, I think serious questions need to be asked this week about why something which ought to be simple and which could help prevent crime and further loss of innocent life should be taking so long and if it is Tony Blair
that should be asked at Prime Ministers Questions then so be it.

Let the pressure be put on the government, the memorial fountain we have is I hope the last one we ever need.

This Government appears to have little or no ability to carry out major IT projects, as the gun register has shown. The Lords are right to keep knocking back the Identity Cards Bill. It would be a misuse of the Parliament Act to override them, and a misuse of public funds. Will this be Tony Blair's Poll Tax?

08 March 2006

Scottish Enterprise have a business plan?

Scottish enterprise problems. Perhaps someone could take them along to the Business Planning for Beginners course that they seem so keen for the rest of us to attend. Maybe when they are they there they could also go on the Beginners website design type courses that they are also keen for Scottish businesses to attend? The other option is layoffs (because they went so much over budget) a £108 million pound consultants bill and a website that falls a bit short of expectations.

01 March 2006

Sign up to stop spam

Today I joined a group determined to fight spam through legal action. It has already been successful with one high profile victory. I also have my own spam petition campaign. The legal front is just one campaigning tool and I hope it will put a permanent end to those annoying calls I get on my mobile several times a week inviting me to upgrade my contract. My phone number is listed with the Telephone Preference Service but it doesn't seem to make much difference. Either the legal campaign will end these irritating calls, or I'll make a good bit of money claiming back the going rate of £300 per call for breaking "DIRECTIVE 2002/58/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL". Incidentally if anyone calls and pretends to be using the Data Protection Act to hide where they got your details from, a web search for "Norwich Pharmacal orders" will show that they cannot use this as a defence. The legal reference is "Norwich Pharmacal Co. v. Customs and Excise Comm’rs, [1974] A.C. 133"

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